With the court promising to press ahead with a trial against deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha on Friday, despite repeated appeals, the CNRP said on Tuesday it expects some 2,000 supporters to gather at the party’s headquarters starting Thursday night.
Lawyers for Mr. Sokha on Tuesday asked the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to delay his trial for refusal to appear in court until the Supreme Court issues a decision on a separate request to invalidate the proceedings.
A spokesman for the court, however, said the trial would be held as planned on Friday, and CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said thousands were expected to turn out to defend Mr. Sokha’s parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights also issued a statement from Geneva calling for a fair trial and an end to intimidation of opposition leaders leading up to local elections next year.
Mr. Sokha faces trial for failing to appear in court in his alleged mistress’s “prostitution” case, but his lawyers, led by Meng Sopheary, have filed a complaint with the Supreme Court arguing that he should not be tried due to his immunity.
“Our group of lawyers filed a submission with the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and demanded that the upcoming trial against our client for refusing to appear be delayed,” as the Supreme Court filing must be dealt with first, Ms. Sopheary said.
“In the interests of the truth, justice, independence and transparency, the court should delay the trial,” she said.
However, Ly Sophana, a spokesman for the court, said the request would be denied.
“We will continue with the hearing as usual because this has no effect on the procedures,” he said.
Mr. Sokha has been holed up in the CNRP’s headquarters in Phnom Penh since May 26, when police attempted to arrest him. Ms. Sochua said she expected at least 2,000 supporters to turn out in front of the building, and for people to also gather at the court.
“People for sure will come and monitor the trial,” Ms. Sochua said. “We expect people to also be at the party headquarters as usual starting at 8:30 at night on Thursday, and on Friday it will be a very important event for us because we are defending the principle of immunity.”
“This is clearly a political case, like all the other cases against us, and we cannot afford for the courts be a political tool, because that is very dangerous for democracy and for human rights,” she said.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the CNRP had been invited to discuss their plans this afternoon. Ms. Sochua said CNRP officials would attend the meeting, but there would be little to discuss as the party’s plans were legal.
The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a news release on Tuesday night expressing concern over an “escalating atmosphere of intimidation of opposition politicians, their supporters, civil society, and peaceful demonstrators in Cambodia.”
On Mr. Sokha’s case, specifically, the U.N. noted that “the weak evidentiary basis of the charges and the accompanying procedural flaws raise serious concerns about the fairness of the proceedings.”
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)